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Washington Voices

Liberty Lake council hears divergent views on River District

Sides disagree on Specific Area Plans requirements

Liberty Lake City Council members spent hours Tuesday discussing the proposed Specific Area Plan for the River District with city staff and representatives from Greenstone, the project developer.

Greenstone representative Mike Terrell said the SAP is a “road map” to development. “We came to resolution and collaboration on a lot of things,” he said. “It’s a 700-page plan. We’re down to 12 issues.”

The River District land, located north of Interstate 90 on both sides of Harvard Road, is owned by Centennial Properties, a subsidiary of Cowles Co., which also owns The Spokesman-Review.

Greenstone wants the ability to have residential units on about 150 acres of land zoned freeway commercial, which city staff said is a violation of the city’s comprehensive plan. Terrell argued that allowing some residential uses in the commercial zone doesn’t mean the city is agreeing to anything specific. Greenstone would still be required to go through the planning process on each building. “It’s a plan, not a project submitted,” he said. “The city still has a lot of control going forward.”

The developer also disagrees with the city’s rules on development agreements for large scale retail establishments on adaptability for reuse. The agreements address the design of the building’s façade, landscaping and parking so a building is easier to reuse if the original tenant leaves. Terrell said the requirement creates a perception that the city is anti-business and is just another hurdle to commercial growth. “Perception is all around us,” said council member Patrick Jenkins. “It’s not reality.”

Jenkins said the reuse agreements are vital to the city. “You’re proposing we back off on our regulations,” he said. “This is the requirement that keeps Liberty Lake from looking like Sprague.”

Other areas of contention between the city and the developer include building orientation and parking, maximum parking and sidewalk widths. Greenstone also asked for changes to the sign code but was refused outright, said Terrell. That issue wasn’t even presented to the city’s planning commission when it reviewed the SAP. “We believe we should have had an opportunity to discuss each and every detail,” he said.

Community development director Doug Smith said that while staff feels the sign code might be ripe for review, they didn’t want to consider changes in just one section of town. “We need to address this community wide.”

As the hour approached 10 p.m. on Tuesday, the council deferred discussion on the issue of parks in the River District, saying they needed a larger block of time to discuss the long simmering issue of park size and amenities.

In other business, the council passed a resolution setting up a protocol agreement between the city, Greenstone and Spokane County on the issue of projects funded by Tax Increment Financing money collected in the River District. The money is to be used to reimburse Greenstone for public infrastructure that benefits commercial development, but Liberty Lake currently has no say in how the money is spent.

The agreement sets up a work group of city staff and representatives from Greenstone that will meet monthly to discuss what upcoming projects might be eligible for TIF reimbursement. Spokane County still retains final approval for the projects, but the city would give input during the process.